Tom Izzo: If Kentucky’s players were white, ‘I think it would be different’


Michigan State coach Tom Izzo answered bluntly when William C. Rhoden of the New York Times asked him if race played a factor the perception of highly talented, predominantly black college basketball teams. By extension, that would include national champion Kentucky.

“I want to answer that as honestly as I can,” Izzo said. “I think it would be different. I hate to say that. It’s sad for me to say, but it’s probably the truth.”

After winning a national title at Kentucky, John Calipari has five players, including national Player of the Year Anthony Davis, on track to enter the NBA draft, shed their amateur status, and begin to make money off of their talents as a professional.

For all the criticism that Calipari has faced in his tenure as a college coach, it is undeniable, especially at Kentucky, that he has helped players launch lucrative basketball careers, a path which gives them an opportunity to better themselves and create financial stability for themselves and their families.

One of the attributes that makes Calipari so successful at the college level, aside from the sincere caring he has for his players and their futures (which any coach worth his salt should have, anyway) is the recognition of one fact:

Not every career is made in a classroom.

For high-major players, many of whom come from humble beginnings in working class households, college is an apprenticeship program, a stop along the way to a professional career (and a highly beneficial one, at that).

Why can’t the college experience be viewed that way?

Cramming a star athlete into a science laboratory and forcing him to play with pipettes and flasks for four years can do just as much good as forcing a future technological entrepreneur, someone with the potential of Steve Jobs or Bills Gates, to study geology without end.

There is no negative connotation here, no implication that athletes somehow possess less intelligence than any other college student, as the NCAA’s ‘dumb jocks’ campaign so counterproductively planted into the minds of fans.

The argument is about harnessing the type of intelligence that a certain student has and helping that person utilize it to make a living. While others may succeed with a calculator or paintbrush, Anthony Davis is one of the most kinesthetically intelligent students in the country.

And believe me, he is on track to make a lot more money off of that intelligence than most. With good financial planning, he could be set for life.

If there were colleges and universities that prided themselves on churning out star artists and business professionals after one or two years, leading them into high-paying jobs and giving them opportunities to succeed, would we have the same outrage as we see with these Kentucky underclassmen possibly entering the NBA draft?

For the players at the very top like these players in Calipari’s program, they have an economic opportunity that has not been afforded to many others in the general population.

It makes for great debate to take the intellectual “high road” and say that players should stay four years, graduate with a degree, and have a fall-back plan.

But the reality of the situation is this, and any business professional (regarded so highly it seems, in comparison to athletes) will tell you: When the difference between staying in school and going pro is a decision between zero-income amateur status and multi-million dollar professional and sponsorship contracts, there comes a point where it is imprudent not to go pro.

For players at this level, money management skills, courses in public image and marketability, and—get this—more time honing one’s skills in the gym, could make for a more well-rounded and potentially successful professional athlete than one who focuses only on “traditional” college courses.

As Rhoden of the Times writes so eloquently in metaphor about the jump to the NBA for players from low-income backgrounds:

“But when you are being pursued by the poverty hounds and see a fence, you jump it and take your chances with whatever is on the other side.”

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

[Post updated 9 April 2012, 3:03p.m.]

No. 14 Cal goes 0-2 in Las Vegas Invitational

Jaylen Brown
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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After midnight on the east coast on Thanksgiving, No. 14 Cal blew a 15 point second half lead against San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to use a 30-6 run to put away the game and advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. That’s the same San Diego State team had scored 43 points in a loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week.

Not 24 hours later, the Golden Bears were shredded defensively by the Richmond Spiders, losing 94-90 in the consolation game of a four-team tournament they were considered to be the heavy favorite in.

It’s a disappointing two-game stretch for Cal, who entered the season as a Pac-12 favorite and had looked the part for the first four games of the season.

And the issue appears to be on the defensive end of the floor.

Richmond is a good Atlantic 10 team. Terry Allen and Marshall Wood are high-major big men, Shawn’Dre Jones is a jitterbug at the point and Chris Mooney runs a Princeton-esque system that is very difficult to prepare for without a day in-between games. So it’s not really surprising that the Spiders gave Cal a fight.

But 94 points?

On the heels of giving up 44 points in the second half against the offensively-challenged Aztecs?

That’s a problem, one that I’m sure that Cuonzo Martin is going to address this week in practice. Martin has managed to put together a roster that is build for small-ball, with four talented perimeter players surrounding a first round pick in the post. But that’s not the style that he’s known for. Martin played his college ball at Purdue in the Gene Keady days. He cut his teeth as a head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. His team’s at Tennessee were known for being tough and physical defensively.

That’s how Martin coaches, which is part of the reason Cal had such hype entering the year.

The talents of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews on a team with a coach that gets teams to defend the way Martin does? It’s no surprise that pundits would be optimistic.

But as of now, they have some work to do defensively if they want to live up to that hype.

Tyler Ulis injured as No. 1 Kentucky beats South Florida

Tyler Ulis, Ky Howard
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MIAMI (AP) Jamal Murray had 21 points and No. 1 Kentucky scored the final 15 points of the first half on the way to beating South Florida 84-63 in the HoopHall Miami Invitational on Friday.

Skal Labissiere added 17 points for the Wildcats (6-0), who led by as many as 31. Charles Matthews scored 11 points and Isaiah Briscoe finished with seven assists for Kentucky, now a winner of 37 consecutive regular-season games and 39 in a row against unranked opponents.

Chris Perry scored 14 points for USF (1-5), which has lost 18 consecutive games against teams ranked in the Top 25. Jaleel Cousins added 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting, and Jahmal McMurray scored 11 points for the Bulls.

Kentucky played the second half without starting guard Tyler Ulis, who departed with a right elbow injury after getting hurt while fighting for a ball loose on the floor.

Kentucky announced after the game that the injury was a hyperextension of the elbow and that he will be day-to-day.

The Bulls were within 27-21 with 6 minutes left in the first half after McMurray banked in a 3-pointer only a few feet away from where John Calipari was standing, and the look of anguish on the Kentucky coach’s face was clear.

It didn’t last long.

The Wildcats scored on seven of their next nine possessions and the game was over by halftime, Kentucky going into the break with a 42-21 lead.

It was a reunion for plenty of people on both benches. Calipari squared off with his former assistant Orlando Antigua, now in his second year leading USF. Antigua’s staff includes another former Calipari assistant in Rod Strickland, plus former Kentucky basketball staff members Mike Malone and Dominic Lombardi.

So the staffs have plenty of familiarity. On the court, there was plenty of disparity. Kentucky finished with a commanding 23-6 edge in points off turnovers and finished with 16 assists to the Bulls’ six.